Saturday, 29 January 2011

Apps for toddlers

My friend Jo sent me a link to a Guardian article this week, which contained the top 10 most engaging and educational apps for toddlers. I read it with interest, mainly because I only have one of the apps on my iPad. I thought it would be useful to share some of the apps I have and that my kids use the most.

1) Lego Harry Potter

Most definitely the best app I have at the moment! You use your finger to move Harry around, flicking, drawing, and tapping to cast spells and make potions. It's easy to control for young children, although it's probably a bit too advanced for my 3-year-old (I'm sure she'll be fine with it in another month or two). This app contains Years 1 to 4, and there's plenty of gameplay to keep even me interesting (*must get all the face cards*)

2) Draw with Stars

Lovely and simple, you just move your finger across the screen to create a sparkly twirly line of stars. Advanced users can change the star size and colour, and the degree of spin.


3) iColoringBookLite

Bit of a cheapo app this one. One of the first apps I bought for my iPad. Has a row of colouring pencils at the bottom that can be selected by touch, and a variety of pictures to colour in. And it's not that kop-out one-touch fill colouring either. A lovely app for toddlers.

4) Angry Birds

I don't think I need to say anything about this app, only to add that even a 3-year-old who has no idea how bomb birds work finds this amusing. Go and blow some pigs up!

Image courtesy of http://www.crunchbase.com

5) Memory Cards

Does what it says, you select from a choice of 2x3, 4x4, 6x6, or 8x8 grids and then tap to uncover pairs of cards. You can pick Ocean or Cartoon Animals themes. Be warned this app does contain in-app payment, so make sure you've turned that off. My daughter is super-fast at this game, she's impressive!

6) 3D Rollercoaster Rush

This app works by tilting the iPad or iPhone. You get points for how happy your passengers are and if you get 'extreme air'. But get too excited and they'll escape and use their parachutes! There are loads of versions of this game, some levels can be bought for free. We have the full version, which has a career mode. My 3-year-old is better at this game than I am, although, that's not saying much really.

Image courtesy of http://uk.wireless.ign.com/

7) Cat Physics

The aim of this puzzle game is to position the arrows in the best possible way so two cats can pass a ball to each other. Yeah, it's a bit of an odd plot. But highly addictive. This is one for older children, but little ones will enjoy clicking on old levels and thinking they did it all themselves (aww, bless them).

8) Disney Digital Books

I've linked these apps together but there are about 5 or 6 interactive books available to buy now. You can either read the book or play the hidden games (colouring with fingers, jigsaw puzzles, tilting games). We have Toy Story and Mickey's Spooky House (Halloween book). Great for reading together with a toddler or an older child on their own.

9) Fingerzilla and Tesla Wars

Again, I've lumped these two together because the concepts are the same. Use your finger as a giant zapper to cause mayhem and destruction. The aim is to score enough points to progress to the next level. Easy enough for a 3-year-old to play, difficult enough for a 5-year-old to shout "MUM!! Can you kill these men for me?"

Zap, you're dead! Tesla Wars image courtesy of http://www.gamertell.com

10) Flashcards

A lovely educational app for toddlers learning to read. There are lots of themes to choose from (eg, animals, transport, shapes, and colours). A picture will appear, followed by the word, which is then spoken. There are also word match and spelling games for slightly older children.

Image courtesy of http://www.ifreeware.net


So that's my top 10. I didn't even mention Talking Tom (hilarious), Paper Toss, Super Juicy (bubble popping fruity fun), Pixelmania (pixelate your stored photos) and Lego Photo (turn your photos into Lego pictures), Ragdoll Blaster, Doodle Jump, Jelly Car, the beautiful Uzu (similar to Draw with Stars), and the multitude of action games my husband downloads for my son (NOVA, Modern Conflict, Earth Defender, Spacestation Frontier to name a few). Or Safari (for BBC iPlayer, when you've missed your favourite cbeebies programme) and YouTube (for looking up Lego Star Wars clips).

Please feel free to share any of your favourite apps in the comments.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Scooter training

My son scoots to and from school most days, and now my daughter wants to join in. This lunchtime I took her scooter to nursery so she could practice on the way home without any time pressures.









You can just see our car parked up the road in the last photo. I'm glad I drove, it took 25 minutes to reach it!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, 24 January 2011

Hair crisis

I had a mad mum moment today and decided my natural blonde colour was too boring and needed to be more exciting.




It looks nice in this photo but in reality it looked light brown at the roots and bright blonde at the tips (from previous attempts to be super blonde).



Ta-da! A lot darker with a hint of red. Looks boring in this photo, I'm sure. I'm feeling like a rebellious teen at the moment. Probably why I ignored my mum's attempts to persuade me to keep my natural colour!

I hope my kids like the change. If not I can always dye it back :)


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The New Allotment

If you follow me on Twitter then you will know about my allotment excitement this week. But if you don't then I'll enlighten you now.

I decided to email the Town Council on Monday about my family's place on the waiting list for an allotment; we've been on it for 2 years now but I knew that new allotments had been created in mid-2010, on land owned by an Eleemosynary charity. A friend of mine who lives opposite the site said he'd got a plot there and I knew he wasn't on the main allotment waiting list.

My enquiry established there were two waiting lists; how enterprising of the Council to inform everyone on the other list. The good news was that plots were available on the new site and we could have one!

By Tuesday I had a list of three possible plots we could rent, and we all went down once my husband was home from work to check them out. Several inches of rain had fallen the previous day, so the site was waterlogged! I had to promise to clean my husband's shoes so he would carry on to look at the plot with me.

The first plot was on the existing allotment field and was fairly large (it was a half plot but perfect for us), and the other two were tiny plots that were part of a new cleared area. Considering the council were charging the same price for all these plots, we chose the largest one (despite there being a Horse Chestnut tree at the end).

By Thursday I had the tenancy agreement to sign and by Friday I was the proud tenant! I couldn't wait to get down to the site to measure the plot properly so I could make some plans.

We didn't get down there until today due to rain and a party yesterday. But it was worth the wait.

The muddy patch (lower right) was where me and my son got stuck!
The site is bordered on two sides by housing and the other two by open fields. The plot measures 8.5 m by 13.7 m (roughly). There are a few brambles and perennial weeds on the left-hand side, but the right is clear, other than for annual weeds. I can definitely get sowing on that side in a few months and work on the tricky side during the Spring and Summer.

The tree is outside the boundary of the plot, at the top left corner, but will cast shade and drop leaves. It's an ideal spot for a shed (you can see our neighbour has his there already). My husband says he won't come down to the site to help until we have a shed, so that's my priority now. 

*boots up PowerPoint*

Friday, 21 January 2011

A weekend to myself

Last weekend I was cruelly abandoned by my husband because he had been invited on his cousin's stag do.

In all honesty, I was quite looking forward to some time on my own. Our Sky+ planner is full to bursting with "my programmes": the last two episodes of Upstairs Downstairs from Christmas; the whole series of Pillars of the Earth; a couple of "girly films" (to name but a few).

I also had high hopes of planning my vegetable plot for this year and finishing off the website for my mum's church. And maybe even writing Christmas thank you cards (no chance).

So what did I do over the weekend?
  • I took the children to McDonald's (only because my husband promised them I would).
  • I planned my veg plot (hooray!).
  • I played Lego Star Wars on the Wii, earned about 3 million studs (I bought ghost Yoda and unlocked the x4 Power Brick), and subsequently dreamt about Obi Wan Kenobi two nights in a row.
Dreams were about young Obi Wan, not old Obi Wan (just to clarify)
Image taken from http://loyalkng.com
  • We went to Sunday School.
  • We made chocolate rice krispie cakes.
  • We made "Welcome Home Daddy" signs for the front door.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Lego storage solutions

Another year has gone by and my son has acquired yet more boxes of Lego! From a basic Lego City tractor, to large boxes of Lego Star Wars to build an ARC-170 Starfighter™, pirate Lego play sets, and Ben 10 figures, we have so much lying around.
Looks great, but it's now in hundreds of pieces

Every set has been built, taken to pieces, rebuilt slightly differently, and then bunged unsorted into an old sweet tin. And modern bricks are no longer square or roof-shaped (like they were when I was 8!); this hodgepodge contains special shaped pieces solely for building Star Wars fighters. We currently have nine tins of unsorted Lego. To a freaky organised person such as myself, this situation must be remedied, AT ONCE!

Actually, that's 12 tins! Here, we are mid-sorting: AGAIN!

I saw on Twitter last week that someone had blogged a "solution for Lego storage". But when I saw the solution I was sorely disappointed. No way would it hold all our Lego! Although I liked the compartment idea.

What I need is a solution that keeps big bricks, roof pieces, wheels, people etc separate, and all in one place. I don't want dozens of Celebrations tins all over the place.

My husband thought these Ikea Trofast units might be useful, but they don't have compartments inside. (We have these units in similar combinations for other toys, and they are great.)
A possible solution
I Googled "Lego storage" to get some ideas. How cool are these Lego storage bricks, available to buy on Amazon?! I'm just not sure I could cope with giant Lego bricks as well as small ones!
Image taken from http://freshome.com

There are a multitude of ideas on Google images, including component boxes, the sort of thing my dad has in his workroom for resistors and soldering wire! This site has lots of different ideas, one of which necessitates personalised labels for drawers (slightly over-organised even for me!)

Component boxes could be the solution.
Image taken from http://www.ericharshbarger.org/


However, there is one good thing I've learnt from Google: we do not have an excessive amount of Lego!

Do you have a solution for storing Lego or other toys? I would love suggestions, practical and unusual!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Volcano!

For Christmas, the mother-in-law wisely bought both her grandsons a Build A Volcano kit. I expect she was thinking it would annoy me and my sister-in-law because we'd have the mess of building and subsequently exploding it. It was a good choice: my son is currently obsessed with volcanoes and lava after watching Revenge of the Sith!

(Sadly for my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law left the kit at her mum's house so she had to build it with her grandson. That serves her right. She said she used up almost a tub of Atrixo because the moulding stage dried her hands out so much!)

I was more upset at the spelling mistake on the box


Last weekend, we decided to build the volcano so we could explode it this weekend. Forward planning and all that. Not that there is anything important happening this weekend that requires explosions.

The box (on which was printed the proud description "Make and erupt a gaint volcano"; Gaint! I nearly fainted at the poor proofreading) contained a plastic mould, tubing, goggles, a measuring cylinder, sand mix for the volcano, and baking powder. The instructions (replete with further spelling errors, gah!) were fairly straightforward, although I'm not sure how many people have a "disposable bucket" to hand. Oddly, we did, so we could proceed.

The instructions reckoned we could make and erupt the volcano in 20 minutes. Let's see. We mixed up the sand compound, using slightly less water than stated (as recommended by my mother-in-law because she said the mix was very runny). It was still runny, but the instructions said we should leave the mix for about 5 minutes and it would harden enough to be moulded. No way, it took about 20 minutes before it was pliable enough to stick to the mould and be shaped. I had to pad the base with kitchen roll to ensure a "moat" was preserved, and the same at the top to form a "crater".

Front page news! Stevenage Town beat Newcastle in the FA Cup.
After much reshaping I was fairly happy with the result and left it to dry overnight. ("I" is correct here. The kids lost interest after stirring the sand mix.)

The next morning, during breakfast (of course) we decided to paint the volcano. This is the sort of crafty nightmare I would only dare attempt when my husband wasn't present. But the finished product was fairly impressive, if I do say so myself.

Green for trees, red for lava, brown for, erm, rocks...
I'm not sure how this model could be made and erupted within 20 minutes, as stated on the box. Fortunately, we are not that keen. This weekend, we will put baking powder in the crater and squirt vinegar up the tube and it should explode triumphantly.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Look East's tenuous Ashes link

I love our local BBC news programme, Look East. I'm always amused by how it manages to report on major news or sport events because someone involved comes from the region. We've had reports on F1 races because Lotus and Red Bull are located in the region. Massive coverage of crises in air travel because Luton and Stanstead are nearby. Although, my favourite story (from when we first moved to Beds) was when a tree fell down and blocked a road in Cambridgeshire. Major news day.

Today, we had Ashes coverage on Look East because Alistair Cook went to Bedford School and plays for Essex. I'm a big cricket fan so I'm always happy to hear cricket news in the morning, even if the link if tenuous. (Although I do wonder why BBC didn't show any actual footage of the cricket, but merely the fans cheering. Were Sky's rights too dear?)

I digress. My new thing I learnt today is that Alistair Cook's average score during the series was 127, scoring 766 runs overall. That's pretty huge eh?! Although I expect not having to play 3 innings helped with that average.

According to the BBC, of all English cricketers playing in series against Australia, this run total is second only to that of Wally Hammond, who scored 905 in 1928-29. A check of cricinfo shows that Cook has the 13th highest total number of runs in a series, but the highest in the past 15 years.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Something medical

Today I learnt something new during work, but I thought I'd share a bit of my background before telling you about the new thing.

As my bio shows, I am a freelance editor. I went straight into a medical editing job after I graduated (I have a Biochemistry degree). The company I worked for was small but had some great staff who taught me a huge amount about grammar, editing, publishing journals and books, proofreading, and indexing. Sadly, this company began to fail and I fortunately jumped ship to a well-known medical journal, who began again with my training, teaching me how to edit research articles thoroughly, restructure text, and understand word origins and meanings. I also had to learn basics of cardiology, oncology, neurology, basic science, just to be able to understand the work I was editing (if you don't understand something you cannot edit it). This was achieved by talking to staff (doctors mainly, from many specialities) and reading. I received a privileged education here, and was fortunate to be funded through a Masters degree while working there also.

Now I'm freelance, I don't get as many opportunities to speak to staff if I'm unclear about technical phrases, so I have to rely on web resources. While editing a typical article, I will google about 20 to 30 words to check their meaning. These are usually medical terms or drug names that I'm unfamiliar with, but I also check country names, symbols for genes and proteins, and abbreviations.

Today I came across the phrase VITILIGO, and I have learnt that it is a skin pigment disorder where skin cells lose their colour, so white patches appear on the skin.

(Sorry if you think this is a bit of a dull post!)

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Deciphering ingredients

One of my New Year resolutions was to encourage my children to try new tastes. With the help of the Tesco app, I've been looking up new recipes to try, based on ingredients I already have.

Tonight I decided to cook Thai Green Chicken Curry, which is a meal I love but we never eat at home. The recipe included chicken, red pepper, baby sweetcorn, mangetout, and cauliflower, nothing too adventurous, and we used sugar snap peas instead of mangetout.

My plan to get the kids eating new tastes includes them helping me to prepare the meal, so they helped choose an onion (sniffing it to see what it smelt like) and broke the cauliflower into florets. They both stole raw cauliflower, sweetcorn, and peas to eat; I'm not about to stop them eating raw veg, even if it is before dinner!

I opened the curry paste and asked them to sniff it and tell me what they could smell. "Flowers and lemons" my 5yo son said (and my 3yo daughter said "green sauce" like a little sweetheart). I looked at the ingredients and told them the lemon smell would be lemongrass. "What's lemongrass mummy?". I could just see my son imagining yellow scented grass so did a Google image search so he could see a photo. And then we decided to google all the ingredients, including tapioca starch ("I'm sure it's very dull" I said, and yes it was like flour).

So, my new thing I've learnt today is about galangal. I didn't know what it looked like (a bit like Ginger root), or that it was related to ginger, and that it had a citrusy and earthy scent.


Image is taken from the website of the Narjeel Restaurant in Oman, which looks fabulous and if I ever visit Oman I will be sure to walk past and wave :)



And the curry was a success (hubs helped himself to seconds and he never does that), the kids ate chicken and cauliflower (oddly they're not keen on cooked baby sweetcorn or peas!), and my 3yo declared it "the best dinner EVER". And I got a high 5 from hubs for trying new foods. Surprised and pleased!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Running club

I'm back home after my first evening running with the Stotfold Runners. A fairly large group ran tonight, many wearing fluorescent tops and Lycra leggings :-0. I definitely need to pop to JJB to buy myself something shiny.

I was running with my friend Pete who is a personal trainer (he also leads the circuit training sessions I go to on Wednesday nights). He suggested I begin on a run/walk programme and build up the running segments gradually. We did 5 repetitions of 5 min running and 1 min walking. This meant I ran for 25 mins of a total 30 min exercise. Completely blowing away my expectations.

So my new thing I've learnt today: I can run! (I managed 2.5 miles BTW.)

Monday, 3 January 2011

Those blasted chocolates

As my "new thing I've learnt today" I decided to do a rough calorie count of my food and drink intake, in honour of my initiation into Stotfold Runners tomorrow. I thought it would be useful to know what foods I eat that I really shouldn't. Here's my list.


Breakfast
Branflakes (320), semi skimmed milk (60), handful of raisins (160), 2 cups of tea with milk (30)

Lunch
Half a ham and pineapple pizza (250), oven chips (125), vinegar (0), salt (0), cup of tea (15)

Dinner
Homemade turkey (120) and veg pie with mashed potato topping (240), marrowfat peas (40), gravy (100)

Total=1460

I'm fairly pleased with this value, bearing in mind I wasn't thinking about calories when I got up this morning. The lunch was a holiday special, so not something we have regularly. The difficulty I found was calculating the calories in my homemade pie. The value could be an overestimate or totally under.

Evening extras :-0

Sweet sherry (260), chocolates (250), ice cream (520), strongbow (240)

Total=1270

I think we can see exactly what I need to cut down! Arghh at the alcoholic calories. OMG at the ice cream (which hubs bought and I only ate because it was there). Damn Christmas chocolate.

A site I stumbled across while searching for calorie contents included a list of "negative calorie foods", items that supposedly require more energy to digest than they provide (eg, celery, tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, carrots, broccoli). Salad anyone? The issue of calories consumed versus calories burnt by digestion is complicated and is affected by many variables. We should just remember that fruit and veg are good for us and aim to eat our 5-a-day!

So, today I have learnt:

1) counting calories is complicated and probably worthless

2) Ben and Jerry ice cream is the devil in frozen milk form

3) Raisins might be high in fibre but they are full of sugar.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Center Parcs Woburn Forest

My "new thing I've learnt today" is that Center Parcs have approval for their 5th resort, to be located in Bedfordshire (map).

We first heard about this idea about 3 years ago when we moved to the Mid Beds area, but everything was still at the planning stage. But on our way home today from New Year visits we spotted road signs for Center Parcs as we came off the M1 at junction 13. Massive excitement all round, so we had to google as soon as we got home.

If you are interested in viewing the site plans, all drawings and planning permission paperwork is available from the Central Bedfordshire planning portal, and the reference is CB/10/03096. You have to click the copyright agreement first before viewing, hence why I'm not pasting a direct link.

Thanks to Ian for this link to the project manager's page, which has a nice artist's impression, and here's a link to the structural engineer's page.

You might wonder why we're excited about this development. For the local area, it is great for the economy and employment opportunities (I am already planning my job application!). For family, we have visited Center Parcs several times in the past 3 years. The holidays have always been excellent, with lots of activities for us all to do. In particular, the Subtropical Swimming Paradise is a haven in cold (and warm!) weather, the children love the slides and the wave pool, and the fact it is warm means they don't complain about being cold, we can stay all day. But, holidays are expensive. The opportunity to be able to go for the day, for a fraction of the price, and still enjoy the facilities, is just fantastic. 2013 cannot come soon enough.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Resolutions

I have high hopes for this year. My plan is to share something new I've learnt during the day. I just remembered this plan, hence the lateness of today's post.

So far today I've learnt:

1) that my children are very well behaved

2) "just one more prawn sandwich" is actually two too many

3) that my sense of humour is wide ranging.


I've made a few resolutions too.

1) Join the local running club, and go every week.

2) Eat healthily and encourage my children to try new tastes

3) Spend more time in the garden

4) Be more thoughtful when making decisions that affect others.


They're a bit poncy but there you go, it's the best I can do at 11pm when I need a wee. Comments welcome, or not, no pressure my lovely 18 subscribers.
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